Iain Ritchie is a master of one of the oldest trades in history. A national horseshoeing champion, the 40-year-old farrier is getting ready to test his mettle at the World Champion Blacksmiths' Competition at the Calgary Stampede in July.
Working in a traditional trade where technology takes a back seat to hands-on artistry is something people like Ritchie value highly. But as with many of those trades, the job demands physical strength, stamina and a willingness to be on the road for a good part of your working life.
His journey began in Scotland, where Ritchie had ponies when he was growing up. At age 16, he went into a four-and-a-half year apprenticeship before making his way to Canada.
Those who succeed in this demanding trade consider it to be a lifestyle, he says.
"It becomes part of you and encroaches on your family life," he says. "You have to realize that if you're showing up between eight and five, you're not going to make it in this industry."
That isn't a problem for Ritchie, since his wife is also a farrier.
If you're good at your trade, there is always work. Peak season for Ritchie is May to September, when he spends long hours shoeing and trimming. Between house calls, he hones his competitive skills by making horseshoes at his workshop in Pitt Meadows, B.C.
Ritchie says he is constantly focused on getting better at his craft.
"A successful career takes a lot more than the day-today work. When the bread-and-butter stuff is done, you have to practice different techniques. It's a long learning process. In fact, I'm still learning," he says.